CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The quality of play might not have mirrored that of the postseason, and the hundreds of empty seats certainly suggested otherwise, but there was a playoff feel in the closing moments.
The Nets, still scrapping for a spot in the playoffs and minus Thaddeus Young after he hyperextended his left knee in the third quarter, were in a dogfight with the Hornets, one of the teams they're competing with. They needed someone to come through in the clutch, and Brook Lopez was up to the task.
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Lopez scored 34 points, his fourth straight game with 25 or more, and had 10 rebounds to power the Nets to a big 91-88 win over the Hornets Wednesday night.
Three times in the final 2:17, Lopez broke a tie, and his floater with 47.4 seconds was the difference, propelling the Nets (30-40) to their fourth win in six games. Lopez also made the key defensive play, tipping Gerald Henderson's inbounds pass with 3.2 seconds left to keep the Hornets (30-40) from getting off a potential tying three-pointer.
"We were disappointed with ourselves after [losing to] Boston and we came in with great focus,'' Lopez said. "It lasted pretty much the entire game. They made some runs, but we fought through it.''
Without one of their better players, too. Young went down writhing in pain after getting tangled up with Gerald Henderson in the lane on a fast break, inadvertently stepping on Henderson's right foot. Young's left knee appeared to buckle, but he was able to limp off under his own power. X-rays were negative, and he expects to have an MRI today.
"I'll be fine,'' said Young, who isn't sure how long he'll be out. "I know tomorrow morning I'm going to wake up and be like, 'Man.' But I'm cool.''
Deron Williams was brilliant, stockpiling 11 of his 14 assists in the fourth quarter, and led an offense that amassed 28 assists on 39 field goals. By getting back to moving the ball, swinging it around to open teammates rather than taking the first available look, the Nets kept the Hornets on their heels defensively.
"You can't get assists without your teammates making shots, so I'm sure a lot of them tonight were to Brook,'' Williams said. "He did a great job in the pick-and-roll of finding the open area, and his touch right now around the basket is off the charts.''
Selfish play has been one of the Nets' biggest problems, which is why they're fighting for their playoff lives.
"It's kind of who we've become,'' Williams said. "It's sad to say, but if we were 20 games in, you could say, 'Oh, it's something we could fix.' But at this point it's kind of the way we trend, and hopefully we can stop it. We should realize we are a better team when we move the ball. We've just got to be unselfish.''